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McGill students competing in 1967 (McGill University Archives)

No useless knowledge

Q&A | How a love of the G.E. College Bowl opened doors for author and surgeon Ben Carson

WORLD's annual Back-to-School Issue next month will include another interview with Ben Carson (see "Most likely to succeed," WORLD Magazine, Aug. 25), a man who has beaten back poverty and racism to become an internationally esteemed surgeon (see also "Second opinion," WORLD Magazine, April 21, and "Rock solid," Aug. 14, for more excerpts from this interview). Here's a portion of our interview that I had to cut for reasons of space in the magazine, but it will help older readers to remember an outstanding television show:

Tell me about the role of the G.E. College Bowl in your life. (For younger folks, that was a weekly show where teams of college students matched wits against each other-a high-end version Jeopardy.) It was my favorite TV program. It came on at 6 on Sundays. It would pit two colleges against each other, four contestants on each side, and ask questions about science, math, history, geography. And I was actually very good at those things, so I wanted to be on College Bowl. But they would also ask questions about classical art and classical music.

Now, I've got to tell you as sophomores in high school in Detroit, if you said something about Van Gogh they would have said, "put gas in it, the van will go." I mean, they would have had no idea what you were talking about. So I had to make an executive decision to learn all that on my own. I would get on the bus, go downtown to the Detroit Institute of the Arts, roam through those galleries for days and weeks and months until I knew every picture, who painted them, when they were born, when they died, what period it represented.

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I always listened to my portable radio: Bach, Telemann, Mozart. And kids in Detroit thought I was nuts. Can you imagine a black kid, in Motown, listening to Mozart? You know? And I tried to convince them that the "Mo" in Motown was for Mozart, but nobody was believing that.

I even decided what college to attend based on College Bowl. Because, I had enough money to apply to one college, I said, "I'm going to apply to the college that wins the grand championship of College Bowl." Well, that year the grand championship was between Harvard and Yale. Yale just demolished Harvard, and I didn't want to go to school with a bunch of dummies, so I applied to Yale. And fortunately they accepted me with a scholarship. But the year I went there was the year College Bowl went off the air. So … [reacting to the Patrick Henry College audience] I know, it's sad.

But years later when I decided that I wanted to be a neurosurgeon and I said, "What's the best place for neurosurgery?" Johns Hopkins. The only problem was they only took two people a year out of 125 top applicants. So how was I going to get to be one of them? Well, it turns out when I went there for my interview, the guy in charge of the residency program, George Udvarhelyi, was also in charge of cultural affairs at the hospital. We talked a little bit about medicine and then we started we started talking about neurosurgery.

And then, somehow, we started talking about classical music, and we talked for over an hour about different composers and their styles, conductors, orchestras, orchestral halls. The man was on cloud nine-there was no way he wasn't taking me into the program. And you know, I love to tell young people that story because … to emphasize the point that there is no such thing as useless knowledge, and you never know what doors it's going to open up for you.

Watch Marvin Olasky's complete interview with Dr. Ben Carson:

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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